Communication is the bedrock of customer service. Good customer service requires effective communications, and that requires listening to your customers’ needs as well as communicating your own.
K–12 schools are far from exempt from this expectation. If anything, parents expect more from their child’s school than they do from the local retailer. It’s time to take inventory of how you are doing, especially with all the changes and challenges this past year has brought. Let’s begin by looking at your strategy for school customer service for all segments of your audience.
Consider all audience segments
Your most concentrated customers, of course, are your students. They are the reason we are all here, and meeting their needs is the priority of all educators. What do you have in place that identifies and responds to their customer service needs? How could you improve the various touchpoints with your students?
But your students aren’t the only customers you have. Their parents are often the ones who make the decision about whether a student attends your school. What do you have in place to assure that their experiences with your school and your staff are exemplary?
Next, consider the customers who can have an impact on your school’s reputation, like vendors, community members, extended family members, governing board members, community organizations, and local businesses.
Be sure to put customer service goals in place for each audience segment, as each has slightly different needs that you must understand and address.
Offer multiple support channels
Today’s customers expect multiple ways to get the assistance they need from your school.
Make sure your school mans your office phones and that when you set-up your phone messaging service, it is working and intuitive. Be sure your staff understands that they need to respond to voice mail messages within 24 hours (or whatever standard you set) and that parents know what they can expect when they leave a message. There are few things more frustrating to parents than getting stuck in a never-ending phone system where no one ever returns a phone call or where the voicemail box is full. Stress the importance of good maintenance and set-up of your phone systems. For more tips on how your school’s front office can improve customer service enjoy, Is Your Front Office Staff Helping or Hurting School Enrollment.
Make your email system available (whether you use a website form to provide email access to parents or you share email addresses). While IT departments don’t enjoy dealing with spam issues, it is poor customer service to make it impossible for parents to reach the staff through email. Not all parents have questions only during school hours, and email is convenient and provides a copy of the answers. As I mentioned earlier, be sure to set school-wide standards for how quickly staff responds to emails.
It is helpful for parents to stay abreast of the latest news and upcoming events via your school’s social media posts. But remember, these posts don’t remain active and will scroll down in their feeds, so your website must be the reliable, current resource parents and the community can always access via your social media links. For more tips on improving your school social media check out Six Things People Actually Want to See on Your Social Media Pages.
Your school website should include access to all contacts (including departments and staff) and be accessible from any other page of your site. This could be in your main banner navigation or in the footer of your site. Also, be sure to include links to your social media platforms, phone numbers, and email addresses for your main office and establish time-frames that your staff should respond to requests. For example, ask that your office staff answer the phone rather than letting it roll to voicemail (nothing is more frustrating than being dumped into a phone tree hell and then waiting days for someone to respond). Request that staff responds to emails within 24 hours, etc. Stress to your staff the importance and value of their response time toward improving your school’s customer service and your customers’ experience.
To further facilitate good customer service, be sure your website is current and informative. Put a priority on keeping the information easy to find (using intuitive navigation and keeping it simple). Encourage your staff to funnel information and content to the site (or to whomever manages the content on your site) and to include events, photos, successes, goals, and news regularly. Find ways to encourage these contributions, and the benefits will be improved communications, increased school spirit, and a strong school brand. Check out School Websites: What’s the Big Deal.
Once you have established these channels of effective customer service, you’ll want to evaluate how they are working regularly. One effective way to measure your success is to survey parents and staff and use their feedback to improve or revise your customer service efforts. Surveys can be created and shared at parent-teacher conferences, on the website, in parent groups, and at PTA/PTO meetings. Be sure to share with those you’ve surveyed how you’ve used the information they took the time to provide, and you’ll encourage future participation as well.
In addition to the usual channels of phone, email, social media, and the website, you may want to consider adding a chat feature to your website. There are free options available; you could assign office staff to monitor this feature during school hours. It isn’t likely your chat feature would require much of your staff time, but it would add a valuable convenience to your customers.
While schools aren’t precisely businesses, there are similarities, one of which is the requirement of a customer-service mindset to have happy customers. Our customers are parents and students who have many choices about where to receive an education. Whether we offer public or private instruction, maintaining and increasing enrollment is essential. To succeed, we must have students, which means we have to continually look for ways to improve our services, including our customer service. So, take a look at each touchpoint in your school, whether the face-to-face opportunities or the online ones, and see where you can raise the bar.
Need some help? Remember that School Webmasters not only manages school websites, but helps keep the content customer-focused and intuitive. Let us help you get and keep this primary customer service channel in top form. Contact us today for a quote!
Posted by Bonnie Leedy, School Webmasters CEO